A washingtonpost.com article from: LKDingeldein1 [at] msn.com
From: LKDingeldein1 (LKDingeldein1msn.com)
Date: Mon, 31 May 2004 07:28:33 -0700 (PDT)
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 'New Standard of Living Blossoms at Ecovillage' - from today's washington Post 
 
 New Standard of Living Blossoms at 'EcoVillage'
 
 By Jason Ukman
 
  Not far from the newly sprouted subdivisions of Loudoun County, a gravel path 
winds through tall grasses toward a cluster of homes where life is lived 
differently than in most places.
 
 Follow the path to the end and find the home of Grady O'Rear and his wife, 
Tena Meadows O'Rear. Go around their organic garden and step inside and onto 
their floor, made of recycled fence post. Then check out the natural linoleum 
floor in their bathroom (so natural, it's an "almost edible product," Grady 
O'Rear says), and don't miss the toilet ("low flush, but one flush," he adds 
proudly).
 
 And after that, go meet their neighbors. The O'Rears know them all.
 
 At EcoVillage, which the O'Rears helped found, the idea is to live in harmony 
with Earth, and with one another. Residents have forged an uncommonly 
tight-knit neighborhood, with  covenants designed to foster a sense of 
community, and promoted an equally remarkable devotion to protecting the 
environment, with homes and land-use rules that take  nature into consideration.
 
 "It's important for us to grow our sense of larger self," said Grady O'Rear, 
53. "How can we be more aware and mindful of one another as human beings, and 
how can we be more aware and mindful of the environment?"
 
 EcoVillage is a good place to start, residents say. Three years after the 
first family moved in, residents profess an adoration for their community, one 
that they say rejects the smothering isolation that is all too common in modern 
suburbia while also embracing an environmentally sensitive way of living.
 
 Located near Lovettsville in northern Loudoun, EcoVillage is among the first 
of several nearby "co-housing" communities -- small-scale neighborhoods that 
operate on the basis of active resident participation and typically make 
decisions by consensus. In the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia, at 
least four such communities  now operate, and at least three more are planned, 
according to Mid-Atlantic Cohousing. The idea behind them is a neighborliness 
and togetherness not known in the cardboard cutouts of the rest of suburbia.
 
 But EcoVillage has gotten off to a relatively slow start. The O'Rears 
acknowledge that the community remains small, with only eight households. 
Thirteen more lots have been sold or are under contract, and the couple  
visualizes a total of 50 homes before the community is complete.
 
  "We are still in the very early stages of this development. It's probably 
premature to draw humongous conclusions," said Tena Meadows O'Rear, 55. "But in 
terms of village life, it's a rich social experience. In terms of the 
environmental goals, we're definitely making progress. I would not say we've 
arrived at some Utopian point. I personally feel a sense, and I think the 
community feels a sense, of pride in the efforts we've made."
 Don't Call Them Hippies 
 To many, the marriage of community and ecological principles brings to mind 
the 1960s -- an association that makes the residents of EcoVillage cringe. They 
say it's important to note they are not hippy freaks; they do have private 
lives.
 
 Among others, they are a part-time teacher, a retired psychologist, a software 
developer, a Japanese tutor, a health care consultant. What they have all 
coalesced around is the idea that the environment should be treasured.
 
 "Part of the way for me to be fulfilled in life is to develop networks around 
me that support things I believe in," said Phill Thomas, a computer consultant 
who moved to EcoVillage with his wife, Lily, and their son, Henry.
 
 He has developed those networks with ease at EcoVillage, where residents have 
agreed to live by certain rules for what they consider the greater good.
 
 If residents want to plant something in their garden, for instance, the plant 
cannot be of any variety. It must be of a type native to the land, and it must 
be grown organically. No pesticides, no herbicides.
 
 From the soil, regulations at EcoVillage reach to the sky. Concerned that 
outdoor lights would refract into the atmosphere and obscure the view of the 
Milky Way, residents have agreed to position or cover all of their lights in 
such a way as to not cause light pollution.
 
 Virginia Ratliff, who retired to EcoVillage, said she and her husband, Bill, 
were prepared to "walk the walk instead of just talking the talk" when it came 
to protecting the environment. Like everyone in the village, they each have to 
spend four hours a month doing community service. Failure to do so means a fee 
of $12.50 for each hour not worked. The money is used to pay for whatever 
services are needed.
 
 Ratliff, who not long ago lived a block and a half from a 7-Eleven, now spends 
some of her time in the dirt, removing "invasive" plants that could wreak havoc 
on other flora and fauna. She acknowledged that she has to put in extra time 
for the benefit of the community and the Earth, but it's not as if she's doing 
it against her will.
 
 "I have the freedom to make decisions about most things beyond my 
commitments," she said. "This is my home."
 A View to the Future 
 Michael Scalia, 46, a software developer, works out of his home several days a 
week. He was on his second-story porch one recent day, his laptop set up on a 
table and the chair pulled up close. What he didn't have -- a bookshelf, a 
nameplate -- he made up for with a magnificent view: Furnace Mountain, part of 
the Catoctin chain, towered in the distance. 
 
 Scalia said he and his wife, Barbara Mikula, sleep on their porch sometimes, 
in a cot off to the side. They wake to the rising sun. It's not such a bad 
setup.
 
 As land in the county is developed at lightning speed, Scalia said, EcoVillage 
stands out as a rarity: The development "makes a place like this more precious."
 
 The sunlit house itself, like others at EcoVillage, comes with reminders of 
environmentally sensitive lifestyles. The siding is made of recycled sawdust 
and cement. The windows use passive solar technology that keeps the heat in 
during the winter and out during the summer. All appliances are energy 
efficient.
 
 Living in harmony with Earth doesn't come cheap. The cost of environmentally 
friendly materials drives up the price of homes at EcoVillage. One couple, who 
are moving to Maryland so they can retain control of a family home, recently 
put their three-bedroom house on the market for $415,000. The house is on  
nearly half an acre.
 
 Still, EcoVillage residents say it's worth it. In addition to nice homes and a 
beautiful landscape, they say they have the benefit of the larger property, all 
180 acres of it.
 
 At EcoVillage, most of the land is  untouched; about 70 percent to 75 percent 
of it is to remain forested forever. 
 
 The master site plan, shown on a large board kept in the O'Rears' home, 
indicates a few salmon-colored pedestrian routes and a main road for cars, but 
most of the board is green. About 11,000 trees -- pines, oaks, hazelnut, sweet 
gum -- have been planted to help with reforestation. Strategies are in place to 
help slow soil erosion and purify the water.
 
 It is all "part of a holistic approach to our existence on the planet," Grady 
O'Rear said.
 A Sociable Society 
 Despite the  focus on the environment, EcoVillage residents don't spend all 
day, every day talking about nature. They lead disparate lives and have their 
own needs to attend to. Part of what they share is a longing to be connected to 
the area where they live.
 
 Scalia, for one, was tired of neighborhoods where people woke up, zipped off 
to work, zipped back and never interacted. The drone of suburbia got to him.
 
  "There's no connection to what's going on outside their home," Scalia said. 
"It just doesn't seem like a healthy life."
 
 The other day, Scalia and his wife joined others in Phill and Lily Thomas's 
home for a potluck dinner of organic pasta and grilled vegetables.
 
  Neighbors walked through the unlocked front door and greeted the others with 
hugs.
 
 "You've got people here you can trust," Phill Thomas said.
 
 Almost all of EcoVillage's residents had shown up. Grady O'Rear was in the 
basement, seated in a pint-size chair next to the Thomases' 4-year-old, Henry, 
who was playing on the computer. Upstairs, Mikula and other neighbors were 
talking about cicadas. And all around, people seemed to be having a good time.
 
 The potluck dinner is a weekly affair. It shifts to a different home every 
time, but that arrangement is temporary. Plans at EcoVillage call for a 
5,000-square-foot common house where dinner will be available every night 
during the workweek. There will also be an area for child care, guest rooms, a 
commercial kitchen and community mailboxes.
 
 What the plans don't call for is an outsider to oversee things. Ever. There is 
no hired firm, or even a part-time office worker, to make sure EcoVillage runs 
smoothly. The residents do almost all of the work themselves, taking charge of 
facility maintenance, land stewardship and the EcoVillage budget. (Each 
household pays an annual assessment of $1,200.) Residents must belong to at 
least one of eight governing committees.
 
 The result of the social and financial covenants is a lot of togetherness. 
Neighbors know one another well. But that's the idea, said Tena Meadows O'Rear.
 
 "It's not that we don't have private lives," she said. "The time we spend 
together has a whole different quality to it. We're trying to intentionally 
develop relationships that feel good to everyone."
 
   

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